TEFL The peculiarities of the English Language

The English language is undisputedly one of the most challenging languages to learn, predominantly due to the vast number of inconsistencies and frequent irregularities and exceptions to the rule (am almost clich?d term).

English, like all languages, is constantly developing and evolving ? it is not fixed, and not unlike to physical environment, is being subjected to an increasing number of changes (possible the result of increasing globalization). Historically, England was the birthplace of English ? it has, however, spread widely, and not exactly, to many parts of the world. As language spreads, words become altered, words become are added, and possibly most frequently ? words are lost. One only needs to read Shakespeare to appreciate that language is alive and alters ? much of the lexis used in the Jacobean period is now almost alien to us.

English is a culmination of many languages, including French, Latin, German and Greek. Words from lesser known languages, such as ?guru?, taken from Sanskrit, are also not uncommon. The great wealth and diversity of the tributary languages from which English has developed, can be seen as a fundamental reason for many of the languages peculiarities ? notably the inconsistent pronunciation and spelling. For example the pronunciation of ?rendezvous? and ?laissez-faire?(which can be seen to be relatively recent additions to the language), is due directly to its ?theft? from the French. Peculiarities such as these, when time is taken for full investigation, become less peculiar and the reasons for these become clear. Thus, if we examine the history of languages, we can account for some of the anomalies and in this way can often discount them as irregular.

There are other inconsistencies in the English language, however, which seem, even after thorough investigation, to be absolute anomalies to the rules we accept as truths. These tend to be much discussed, and cleverly written poems or phrases illustrating these inconsistencies are commonplace. How the same word can be pronounced differently depending on the situation, and their creation in this way, seem to be a complete myth. Whilst there are various explanations for many of these apparent duplications, they often prove tenuous, only to be disputed by the next article. For example:

1)The farm was used to produce produce. 2)We must polish the Polish furniture. 3)They were too close to close the door.

Whilst there is, or must once have been, a reason for these ? these can often be seen to be completely peculiar and irregular. Similarly, English plurals can prove a stumbling point for foreign language learners?

?We?ll begin with a box, and the plural is boxes; but the plural of ox became oxen not oxes; One fowl is a goose, but two are geese, Yet the plural of moose should never by meese.?

This short extract, whilst amusing, illustrates effectively the complex nature of the English language. Whilst we are blessed with the intuition and knowledge of these peculiarities and irregularities, a result of many years of both formal and informal teaching, it is unsurprising that the English language poses a great challenge for foreign learners ? making it undoubtedly one of the most challenging languages to learn.


Author: Elizabeth Rich

Date of post: 2007-04-02